Balblair 21, 1990 (C&S)

Here is a highly untimely review. This Balblair 21 was released in 2011, right around the time when I had begun to buy single malt whisky in a deranged manner. As per my spreadsheet it cost me $80 at the time (and back then the Euro was a lot stronger against the dollar). Sherry cask whisky was widely available then. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking but I also want to say that high quality sherry cask whisky was still widely available then. That is to say, it was possible to get sherried whiskies that didn’t seem to all have been matured in active oak casks that had a few bottle of cooking sherry pressure injected into them for a week or two. Whisky geeks are still enamoured of sherry cask whisky and especially of dark sherried whiskies but they mostly seem like dubious propositions these days, either flabby or raw. I can tell you that the sherry character in this Balblair is more old-school. I’ve been drinking the bottle down with pleasure since I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings a couple of months ago. Here now are my notes.

Balblair 21, 1990 (56.1%; C&S; sherry butt #165; from my own bottle)

Nose: Intensely raisiny sherry notes mixed with organic notes of rotting leaves and possibly a small rodent or two. As it sits lots of dried mushrooms soaking in water and a general meatiness develop. With more time that mushroomy/meaty/leafy note has an unmistakable sulphurous border but it’s nothing too objectionable. Water knocks the meaty/sulphurous complex back and brings out more fruit: orange plus some apricot.

Palate: Comes in sharper than expected with some gunpowder cutting through the raisins. Very approachable at full strength. With time the dried orange peel from the finish pops out earlier and it gets saltier. With more time still (about 45 minutes in) the gunpowder recedes and the orange is now the top note, with some metallic accents. Okay, let’s see what water does. Makes the fruit brighter still and pulls out some toffee to go with it.

Finish: Medium-long. Gets drier as it goes and some dried orange peel comes to the fore. Salty here too with time and then there’s some bitter chocolate. As on the palate with water.

Comments: As noted, this is a good heavily sherried whisky of a kind that doesn’t seem to be around so much anymore. The sherry is rich and dark and well-integrated but the oak is not obtrusive. And with time and then water the fruit really comes on strong. As pleasurable as it is though it is lacking enough complexity to take it to the next tier.

Rating: 88 points.


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